Posted in Identity

How I Became a Catholic

Around Twitter, people were sharing a story from their past that just illustrates how Autistic they are.

My faith journey, surprisingly, is how I know that I’m Autistic.

I grew up ELCA Lutheran.  The ELCA matters because that’s the liberal Lutheran.  Around here, we also have Missouri Synod and WELS, both of which are nearer Baptist.  ELCA Lutherans are nearly Anglican, and they use the same worship service structure.  Maybe if I had grown up a more conservative faith, farther away from Catholicism, it might have been different.  Anyway, my mother’s family is all Catholic and my dad’s mom’s brothers both married Catholics and converted.  We’re not a long line of anything: my dad’s dad was Congregationalist (not really; they rarely went to church) and my mom’s mom went to a Presbyterian church.  My grandparents picked Lutheran as “close enough.”

It all began when I was in high school, or perhaps middle school.  Whatever the path, I stumbled upon Gladys Malvern’s books (very few of them, but some of them; I’ve tracked down a lot more on eBay) in my public library’s collection.  She used to write historical stories that were researched, but she’d fill in the gaps, and later, I’d find out that her Tudor stories were pretty nearly accurate, as opposed to Carolyn Meyer whom I detest, likely because she is not very good at depicting Queen Mary I of England in any way I found believable.

Anyway, Gladys Malvern had two volumes I read and reread quite a bit: The Six Wives of Henry VIII and The World of Lady Jane Grey.  I fell in love with Tudor history then, because it is unusually female-centered even though historians like to shift things and focus on Henry VIII a bit too much.  His wives, daughters, and niece, Lady Jane Grey, were really huge characters in the story, and he was pretty one-dimensional.  Henry’s story is this: I am paranoid because my dad fought in a big war for years and we won only by marrying our enemy and then we got to be king.  If I die without a male heir (they weren’t yet sure how a woman could be capable of ruling), all my dad worked for would be for naught.

But here’s the funny thing about the story: he totally blew off his dad, right at the beginning of his reign.  He might have been much more interesting if he’d have stuck with that Henry vs. “paranoid Henry.”

Continue reading “How I Became a Catholic”

My Boss is Back

To tell you how it’s going at school, now that my boss is back, let me give you an analogy:

You’re in the midst of a divorce and you sit down to talk about assets.

In the conversation, your ex (who pitched you out; you were fanatically loyal) implies that he’s considering paternity testing on all of the children born of the marriage.

He goes on to gush about his shiny new family, and how he can’t wait to get started with that.  His life is going to be so much better when he’s rid of you and those inconvenient kids he had with you.

You sit there, realizing you’ve been duped for your entire marriage and wonder if you have the energy to fight for your kids and what they deserve.

So, yeah, it’s going fantastically.

Posted in Burnout, Catholic leadership

Less Than Nothing

When I took this job, it was unpleasant and awkward: Father had removed a person who was, objectively, bad at her job by all metrics.  She was a poor teacher, dressed like she was a child, herself, and played favorites and made friends with the staff.  The school was her playground.

Our students did not do well academically, and she was oblivious to this.

Religiously, we were abysmal, and she really didn’t care.

A year later, I’m in the same position she is: I have lost my job (and the entire school besides), but unlike her, I’ve done everything right.  People tell me that none of this is a reflection on myself or what I’ve done or not done.

But it’s the same story.

While emotionally, treating the former principal so poorly (he let her finish the year, but it was just dreadful) was not kind, it was logical.

Tossing me out like garbage when I didn’t do anything wrong is even less the right thing to do.

Here is a list of only some of the things I did, as principal, that had nothing to do with the principal job:

·         Safe Environment Coordinator

·         Website writer/designer

·         Marketing

·         Liaison to Spanish Ministry

·         Coordinate Fish Fry (A parish fundraiser, not per-se a school one)

·         Internet/Networking

·         Computer maintenance

·         Translator

·         Back up parish secretary

·         Rewrite and translate letters for Father (copywriting/editing)

·         Small-scale fundraising

·         Grant-writing

·         Coordinate facilities

·         Signage—Changing on outside

In short, I was the parish administrator, not just the school administrator.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m paid the least of any school principal in my Diocese, with no health insurance, no retirement…nothing.

I think there’s a lesson in all of this.

I was undervalued, underpaid, and overworked.  I thought, foolishly, that being good at my job (so good I was given responsibilities for the whole parish) would help ensure my continued presence at the parish even if the school were to close because these things would still have to go on as before.  Based on the chilly reception I got when he came back, I know that he is done with me.

I was last year’s flavor-of-the-month.  Next year will be religious education.  He has an idea that will revitalize the parish, he’s been told.  Just like improving the school was supposed to.  He’s planning to find a way to convince the person who set up our endowment, designed to pay for Catholic education for students in our neighborhood, that he should let him use this money to fund religious education, not Catholic school tuition.  This was not the purpose of the endowment, and there is literally no sense in what he is planning because it’s happening piece-meal, and haphazardly, and a generation or two too late.  The young people aren’t going to flock to us for this programming; at least one other parish in town is doing this already.

He has literally no clue that when you don’t allow time for changes to take hold, they will fail.  He killed the school before it had a chance to grow.  He’ll try this new thing and it’ll fail for two reasons: 1) he doesn’t have the staff to see it through, and 2) even if he did, he’ll be disappointed in how it’s not progressing fast enough, and he’ll change again.

And he’s grown territorial.  He’s decided to save this parish, he’s going to fight with the other three priests, to stake his claim, as they have, which has so far only resulted in continued bickering and in-fighting while people flee our parishes.

But this helps me to make a decision: whatever I decide to do, we will not remain in this parish and I am questioning whether I wish to continue in this Diocese, either.  You see, my Diocese has never really supported Catholic education, beyond lip service.  In other areas of the country, Bishops have taken strong leadership roles in guiding their parishes to successfully revitalize the important mission of Catholic education.

My bishop has mostly stifled it.

In the end, my problem is that I am trying to unlearn a rule that I have taken to heart too long: that my hard work for God and in bringing children to God would be rewarded.  I would be increasingly at peace.  But with this parish already given over to the Devil, to be his plaything, why would I think I could keep fighting this evil, especially when my boss decided to stop fighting it, too?

We didn’t drive the devil from this parish; we gave it to him.

And I am spent from the fight.

Posted in Autistic Identity

Ancestry: Tracing Our Autistic Past

My grandma and I like to do genealogy.  I work on it when I have time as a way of figuring out just who I am, and how I fit into my family.

I found, after my husband realized that he was Autistic, just like our own child, we could make a game out of it and try to trace the “Autistic line” in the family, to see where the other Autistic ancestors were.

Oh, fair warning, before I do this: it is never, ever cool to start speculating on whether random people are or are not Autistic or any other Neurological difference.  But when we Autistics do it, we do it without judgment; we’re actually excited about it, since it helps to anchor our own existence and helps to prove that we are not just some freaks of nature broken by a vaccine (does anyone with any sense still believe that?).  Instead, we are here because our gene got carried through the lines; inevitably if we Autistics look around in our family trees, we’ll find some Autistic qualities.  In speculating on this, we are not trying to “diagnose and fix,” but to find ourselves and to justify our existence in a family we may or may not have felt a part of.

Here’s what I’m speculating about.

Continue reading “Ancestry: Tracing Our Autistic Past”

Posted in Burnout, Self-Care

Isolation

So, ’tis the time of year to prepare to make resolutions regarding what one will and will not do during Lent.

Lent is the 40-day time before Easter to purify ourselves and to get ready for Holy Week, which represents Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and resurrection.

The joke this year is it starts on a day dedicated to chocolate and candy (Valentine’s Day; St. Valentine would probably not be thrilled with what his day has become) and ends on April Fool’s Day (Easter).

To get ready, we generally give something up and/or make promises to do things better.  On Fridays, we don’t eat meat (in Catholic circles, that means broth and “things from the sea” including alligator are good, but poultry are not; our Orthodox friends get to have chicken and turkey) and on some days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) we Catholic fast and abstain from meat.

Catholic fasting is a joke for Jewish and Muslim friends: we eat two “little meals” (together not totaling a meal) and a big meal.  We brush our teeth and drink water and everything.  We are lightweights on fasting.

It’s popular in Catholic circles to give up social media as a sacrifice during this time because somehow it’s destroying us all.

Under an argument that it wastes time, I guess I can see that.  There is a certain time waste associated with social media; the endless scrolling and hope to find something to “like” or with which to interact get tedious.

However, some people use social media to connect because they are unable to have such deep, rich, and varied interactions in their “real” lives.

In fact, for some of us, an in-person visit is insipid and pointless.  I’ll use the time to get to know your cats, dogs, and other pets.  Maybe I’ll talk to your grandmother or young children, but honestly, the “age appropriate,” human types bore me.

That in person visit is a waste of time for me.

And, in my own life, Facebook has become like that pointless visit in the living room; I mostly use it to scan through prayer requests from a group of women I’m in, and I pray for them and move on.  But I don’t develop anything meaningful there.  It’s mostly full of people I knew in my past, but haven’t bothered to keep up with.  Some of these people are parents of Autistics and like to post junk from Autism $peak$, so it helps me greatly to avoid them, particularly around April since they have ignored my repeated pleas to consider dumping the eugenicist organization as a source for news about Autism.

But Twitter is different.  Autism Twitter is fascinating; we meet up there and we chat and we defend each other against the attacks of people who don’t understand Autism.  It is there we meet up with the other big names of the Disability community and share information, all in reasonable-sized chunks of information.

And we can also look at kitties and puppies, too, if we want.

Continue reading “Isolation”

Posted in Advocacy, Autistic Identity, Identity, intersectionality

Dear Late Diagnosed Person

To the Late-Diagnosed Person–

I hate that term, Diagnosis, since it sounds like someone had to validate your very existence.

I prefer the term “awareness” or “validation.”

Awareness is when you knew your brain operated differently.

Validation is when someone said, “Hey, your brain works differently” and they didn’t mean it as an insult.  It just was a fact.

How do we ever know what it’s like in our heads, as compared to someone else’s?

I think one of the interesting things about finding out that we’re Autistic in particular, though this really goes for any Neurodivergent quality, is we get to actually think about what other people see inside their heads, and then we encounter a whole lot of interesting information when we realize that everyone is not doing what we’re doing.

Continue reading “Dear Late Diagnosed Person”

Posted in Advocacy, Autistic Identity, intersectionality, leadership, Teaching

The Rest of Us Just Live Here: Accepting That I’m Not a Superhero

The thing about being Autistic, I think, that can be really detrimental to living a functioning adult life, is that we believe a lot of what we’ve been taught.

Think back to all those posters on the walls at your schools.  Think about all those heroes they made us read about, so that we could learn to cultivate all those virtues “they” wanted us to all have.  We were supposed to be honest, hardworking, and compassionate.  We were supposed to save the world!

But, as we Autistics have found, we aren’t really supposed to be too honest.  Being too honest doesn’t work out so well for us.

A lot of people can hang out at the water cooler (literally and metaphorically) all day long, and yet they seem to get ahead at work.

And when you give so much that it hurts, all that happens is you’re hurt.  There is no reward.

And yes, it’s all possible for all this suffering we go through on this earth to be rewarded in the afterlife, but we see so many people flagrantly ignoring the rules we were overtly taught and internalized, and they do, in fact, get ahead on this earth.

If they meant that honesty, diligence, and compassion would mean not a danged thing now, but might or might not in the afterlife (if it exists), why the heck didn’t they just say that?

Continue reading “The Rest of Us Just Live Here: Accepting That I’m Not a Superhero”

Posted in Disability in Education

The Null Curriculum: That Which We Dare Not Speak About

At a Diocese meeting yesterday, the other principals were surprisingly helpful, trying to see what they can do to help me personally and professionally.

It was kind of creepy.  I’m not used to colleagues caring.  Then again, it was probably easy for them to see that it could happen to any of them, so they are genuinely concerned.  If I became a wheel in the machine, I would expect to see fake caring, the kind of thing neurotypicals do because it’s expected.

This was genuine.

Beyond that, though, there may be a job open next year, through one of my colleagues who told his priest he was only doing the job for one year.

The holy spirit may be at work here, because this is also my priest’s home parish (his parents, who adore me, are parishioners) and they have Spanish-speakers, besides.  We share a teacher who comes to do some religious education at my school who likes me a lot (and she has the ear of the priest besides).  Also, they are not in danger of closing any time soon for they are closer to full and well-supported financially.

I’m not sure if anything comes of it, or if I want to be at the mercy of another priest’s whim, but this particular priest is older and more experienced, which comes with it both good points and bad points.  It’s less likely that what happened to me with a sudden school closure would happen there, though.

On paper, I know I am valuable (I went over my CV; it’s a bit gappy in places, since, well, Autistic; but it’s got a solid combination of degrees, educational experiences, and professional “appearances” that I’m kind of a unicorn in the K-12 market), but I am still Autistic.  I know this is a strength, but sometimes it’s just people getting past my oddities, to see it.

Having people trying to open doors for me, though…this is what I needed.  I tend to get jobs this way, with someone pointing out how great I am first, and then we can go from there.

I’m told neurotypicals get jobs this way, too, through connections and networks, but it’s hard to get that narrative of working hard leading to success out of your head.

It’s amazing what stories we tell people about how to get ahead, which we don’t really mean.

Continue reading “The Null Curriculum: That Which We Dare Not Speak About”

Posted in School Leadership

Going Back for the Others?

Jonathan Kozol once wrote semi-admiringly about free schools as a concept.  Free schools don’t mean public schools; there was a movement to do these kinds of schools where students do all the decision-making.  It’s kind of like unschooling, but in a school format.  It’s brilliant, but it presupposes a view of childhood that most people find unnerving: that kids can think for themselves and make good decisions.

In my experience, in fact, they can, once they get past the idea that they can, in fact, do nothing and have ice cream all day.  Eventually, when they get used to a life with no rules, they do like learning and eating real food, too.  Autistic kids thrive with choice since they seem to have this innate knowledge of what it is they need…society just likes to get in the way and interrupt this little voice that tells them what to do.  Anyway, sure, kids ought to be able to choose what they do and when they do it.  It’s a good thing to have children and teens vote on what happens next, and have them direct their own learning.

I’m sure, deep down, Kozol also would agree in theory with Catholic education because of the good it can do, especially in urban areas.  It gets some kids out, and helps them move to the middle class.  When you think of individual children, homeschooling, choice schools and Catholic education and other options are always a wonderful thing.  He is not remotely a fan of it in practice, though (or possibly not even in theory; sometimes it’s hard to read his work for me because of this).

But he said something about free schools that has stuck with me for years.

He compared them to the commandant’s children playing in the sandbox near Auschwitz.

Continue reading “Going Back for the Others?”

Posted in Self-Care

Vocations and Friendship

Less than a month ago, a parishioner and I were walking in the sub-basement of the school during Fish Fry talking about the chaos in the room.  His wife came down and while he continued to look at it (he’s compared our storage spaces to Beirut, presumably during wartime, which isn’t necessarily an inaccurate description), we talked about school and life.  She called what I do my true vocation, which it kind of is: if I am doing anything outside the house, this was it.  I felt the most “right” and at peace with working here.  She and I are on the same page on a lot of issues, though she’s in my mom’s generation, though a little younger, so one could say we were verging on friendship.

Autistic friendships: all the older and younger people you want, but never people in the same generation (aargh).

I suspect it helps she has many Deaf siblings (a lot of Autistic culture owes much to the Deaf community; they started this whole idea of we do have a language and a culture and you all are the weird ones, which we in the Autism world appreciate so much).  She’s quirky, likely because of navigating the hearing and Deaf worlds, and because, like me, it sounds like she didn’t get involved with too much in the way of office politics and focused on her work more than average.

Also, like me she doesn’t do small talk and, like me, loves to talk politics and religion and really doesn’t care what the Kardashians are doing.  It limits her friendships with her neighbors.

Anyway, we went out to lunch yesterday, and it ended up being a five-hour experience, talking about all kinds of things.

A highlight of the conversation, of course, is what I should do next.

Continue reading “Vocations and Friendship”